Manic Productions Presents
Small Black, Feelings
300 York St.
New Haven, CT, 06511
This event is all ages
It's hard to say exactly when it happened.
It could've been during one of the 100+ shows STRFKR played over the past two years—ecstatic sold-out dance parties that started in tiny, sweaty rooms before word of mouth spread and forced a move to larger (and even sweatier) venues.
It might've been when touring guitarist Patrick Morris officially became a full-time member in late 2011, rounding out a line-up that included multi-instrumentalists Josh Hodges, Shawn Glassford, and Keil Corcoran.
Most likely, though, there wasn't a single defining moment when the change occurred. With evolution there rarely is.
Instead, progression happens naturally and steadily—each step leading inevitably to the next until you reach a point when you realize how far you've come without even being fully aware of how you got there.
In early 2012, during a rare break in the group's touring schedule, Hodges retreated to secluded Astoria, Oregon. But this time, rather than completely isolating himself to work on new material (as had always been the case in the past), Hodges invited the other members to visit often and truly collaborate in the process of writing STRFKR's third full-length, Miracle Mile.
And so it was that STRFKR became a band.
As a result, whether participating in all-night lyric writing sessions, fleshing out song skeletons originally conceived during European soundchecks ("Malmo") and long van rides ("Leave It All Behind"), or completing half-finished ideas kicking around Hodges' brain and hard drive, there isn't a single song on Miracle Mile that every member of STRFKR didn't contribute to and ultimately improve.
For proof, look no further than first single and opening track "While I'm Alive," a song that bursts out of the gate with what can only be described as swagger. Not overconfidence or false bravado, but the undeniable sound of a band that knows exactly who they are: swirling keyboards that take you up, down, and all around, rhythmic guitars, irresistible basslines, and drums that keep an unrelenting beat.
Disco-y standout "Atlantis" is the paragon of this formula, with vocal and musical hooks seemingly custom fitted to a spot so deep inside your eardrums they'll never dislodge.
But upbeat isn't Miracle Mile's only tempo.
In fact, it's in quieter moments like "Isea," which briefly slows down the album's pulse with gentle "oh-oh-ohs" over acoustic guitar, that the record truly coalesces as a complete whole that couldn't have come together any other way.
Just like STRFKR.
The cover of Small Black's new album, Limits of Desire, was shot by Dutch artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland and serves as a sort of visual source code for its themes. How are our desires limited and how, in turn, are we limited by them? Featuring a man and a woman embracing on either side of a ladder, the two are completely naked, divided by its triangular span - close but unable to get any closer. It is a moving depiction of modern connectivity and interaction.
Built off the back of 2010's New Chain and 2009's self-titled EP, Limits of Desire is a crystallization of Small Black's gorgeous synth-pop sound. Together the four piece, Josh Hayden Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums, percussion) have moved past the hazy, bedroom-recorded feel of their previous releases with a refined sound that pares back embellishments, trading dense layers for space and clarity of vision.
This was achieved, in part, with the addition of live drums, electric guitar and trumpet to the band's sonic palette. Speaking with SPIN recently, Kolenik pointed out these changes saying, "New Chain was hyper-layered collage-y by design and as an artist you always want to fight against what you did last...as you get a little older and more learned in your craft, you want to show everything and not hide behind multiple vocal takes or any sort of haze."
The tracks are, accordingly, sophisticated and precisely rendered. "Free At Dawn" starts at a low rumble and builds to a climax with Kolenik chanting the title over soaring guitars and synths. "Breathless" takes Lynchian lyrics ("Saw both my life and death / in two lines / felt the kick of fate / there I was invisible / out of phase") and sets them to a bumping electro-pop theme, which is then immediately ratcheted up to epic on "Proper Spirit" where Kolenik croons flirtatiously over razor sharp synths. "No Stranger" is the kind of private origin story couples tell each other for reassurance ("Tell me where you thought you saw me / Tell me why you asked my name"), dressed up for the club like one of Robyn's best heartbreakers. This the sound of four skilled musicians crafting stories about intimacy on the highest level. Ultimately, Limits of Desire is the sound of a band arriving.